9 toes over the edge…

Prescription for pre-birthday ennui: a dirty martini and dancing with a handsome fella in AC!

I have a birthday coming up on Friday, the last one in my 40’s. These days I have very mixed feelings about birthdays. They are mile markers in life, a time to take stock of where you were, are, and what you hope is ahead. And with that comes a good, bad and ugly smorgasbord of emotions. But…you get to eat cake. Magical cake that has NO calories. Because everyone knows there are no calories in birthday cake. (*NOTE: the “no calories rule” applies only to your birthday cake. The others?? Well, you’re outta luck Sparky.) So as I walked along the beach early this morning and got ready to prop one more toe over the precipice to 50, I was understandably feeling a bit of ennui. Am I where I want to be? No. Did I think I would be at this point in my career at 49? HELL no. Does that undo me? No, not really. Because deep down I know that this situation is temporary, and as they say in my family “this too shall pass”. I guess with age really does come wisdom (aw crap…) Continuing my walk along the shore I noticed what looked like a big blue ball bobbing in and out with the surf. As I got closer I could see it was a balloon. Figuring I’d save some poor creature from swallowing it (there’s still a little marine biologist in me), I fished it out. Know what it said? “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” I swear on my love for butter, dirty martinis, George Clooney and chocolate, I am NOT making this up! I laughed, looked up, and said “why, thank you”…now let me at that FREAKIN’ CAKE!

Red Velvet Birthday Cake with Chocolate Guts

(Both the recipe for the cake and cupcakes were adapted from ones I found on epicurious.com and foodily.com — terrific online resource for recipes and ideas. I used a variation on B.Smith’s red velvet cake recipe for this one.)

My niece was born on Halloween. So naturally there has always been a theme readily available for her birthday parties. I made a red velvet cake for her “Spooky 16” party a few years ago, since the cake would have the highly appropriate color of blood (ooooo…spooky). Problem was, she lives in Wyoming where the altitude starts at 5,000 feet. Being a “sea-leveler” I wasn’t accustomed to baking at high altitudes and the acrobatics of rising and subsequent falling that occurs. So when I took the cakes out of the oven they had HUGE craters in their middles. I was getting ready to scrap the mess when my brother came up with a BRILLIANT structural idea (did I mention he is a world-class architect?) He took a few of the chocolate cupcakes I made earlier, crumbled them up a bit, and filled the craters. The red velvet cake with chocolate guts was created and maniacal laughter ensued (BWA HA HA HA HAH!!)

You can make this recipe into a ‘normal’ red velvet cake, or if you are not too terrified, give ceremonial red velvet disembowelment and subsequent cupcake transplant a try. I’ve included the devil’s food cupcake recipe I made, but you could easily use the cabernet cupcake recipe from my post What you wish you could say…, your favorite chocolate cupcake recipe, or a box mix. Happy Birthday!!

"No Calorie" birthday cake...it's a MIRACLE!

[TIMING NOTE: You can do all of this in one day, but the cake and cupcakes are actually better the longer they sit. This is a perfect make ahead recipe, and once iced can sit in the fridge for a day or two. Just take out an hour before serving.]

Red Velvet Cake

  • 2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour (sifted, then measured)
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 TSP baking powder
  • 1 TSP baking soda
  • 1/2 TSP salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 TBSP red food coloring
  • 1 TBSP balsamic vinegar
  • 1 TSP vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4-5 devil’s food cupcakes (recipe below)
  • Cream cheese frosting (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla in small bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until well blended. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition. Beat in dry ingredients in 4 additions alternately with buttermilk mixture in 3 additions.

Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 27 minutes. Cool in pans on racks 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto racks; cool completely.

**Frosting (**prepare the frosting just before you are ready to assembly the cake)

  • 2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in vanilla. Add powdered sugar and beat until smooth.

Devil’s Food Cupcakes

Makes 12 cupcakes – use 4 or so for the guts, and I trust you will find something to do with the rest.

  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 TBSP unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch-process)
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 TSP vanilla
  • 1 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 TSP baking soda
  • 1/2 TSP salt
  • 1 sticks (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 TBSP cups packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 TBSP granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line muffin tins with paper holders, or spray pan with baking spray. Whisk together boiling water and cocoa powder in a bowl until smooth, then whisk in milk and vanilla. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt in another bowl.

Beat together butter and sugars in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy, then add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in flour and cocoa mixtures alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture (batter may look curdled).

Divide batter among muffin tins, filling 2/3 of the way full. Bake until a tester comes out clean about 20 to 25 minutes total. Cool cupcakes in pans on racks 10 minutes, remove and cool completely.

To create the ‘chocolate guts’

Once the cakes and cupcakes have cooled completely, place 1 cake layer flat side up on work surface. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a naturally formed crater (poor dear), create one by taking your fingers and pulling out the crumb about an inch and a half from the edge and half way down the height of the layer. Save the cake crumbs in an airtight container. Crumble up 2 cupcakes and fill the crater, pressing down a little so the final surface is even. Do the same thing with the flat side of the other layer. Wrap the layers well with cling wrap and let them sit for a few hours (overnight is fine)– they don’t have to go in the fridge at this point.

To assemble the final cake :

Make the frosting, and spread 1 cup evenly over the bottom layer. Carefully turn the top layer over and place on the iced bottom layer. You are trying not to have all the chocolate cupcake fall out. If it does, just mound it up in the middle of bottom layer, align the crater of the top one, and place on top. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake.You can leave the sides with just frosting, or if you want to decorate it a little, use the leftover red velvet cake crumbs and gently press into the icing on the sides of the frosted cake. Or, you could sprinkle them on some vanilla ice cream….or you could brew up a nice cup of coffee and just eat them. 🙂

Put finished cake in the fridge and let sit for a few hours or overnight (it can go a day or two really – it gets getter as it sits.) Calories: There aren’t any silly — it’s MY birthday cake!

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